20 Jun 2019

How to Prevent Embezzlement in Your Church

Angie Joya

Ministry life often comes with so many unforeseen challenges. But the one thing that always catches pastors by surprise is being faced with accusations of fraud in the church. What’s a pastor to do? 

Unfortunately, this scenario is more common than you might imagine. For example, in the past few months in New York, there have been several instances of church board members, as well as a pastor, being found guilty of embezzlement. 

In hearing about cases like this, it’s easy to wonder how something like this happens in a church. Even more so, it’s hard to understand what makes people steal from the churches they love so much. 

In this blog, we’ll take a look at how you can take the right steps to protect your church from any instance of fraud or embezzlement. But first, let’s look at the case of the pastor from New York.

New York pastor convicted

A New York pastor was convicted of embezzling close to $300,000, including loans and cash. The pastor appealed to the court, but the court rejected the appeal stating that the acting secretary discovered that by eliminating financial oversight, he was able to take out a commercial loan of $40,000 and write checks in his own name, as well as in the name of his wife. The oversight went on for 18 years. The pastor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail and five-year probation. Additionally, he was ordered to pay restitution of $256,488 to his church.

Cases like these are heartbreaking to say the least, but it begs the question: What makes a pastor steal money from the church he shepherds?

What makes a pastor steal money? 

Embezzlement is so commonplace, not only in the business world but sadly, in the church world as well. In fact, it is the most commonly committed crime in the workplace. 

When churches are faced with the realities of embezzlement, they are often found wondering, How could this happen to us? Through the pressures of ministry life, it is easy for pastors to find themselves isolated and confused. Though this is not an excuse for fraud, ministry life can often be isolating and incredibly exhausting. It is not uncommon for pastors and ministry leaders to deal with 

  • Feelings of isolation,
  • Struggles with false identities,
  • Financial frustrations and stresses, or
  • A misplaced heart.

Being a pastor is not for the faint of heart. Pastors are often expected to fulfill multiple roles. Many pastors also serve as the church administrator, janitor, bookkeeper, handyman, groundskeeper, and the person who does just about everything else that needs to be done in the church. Know that you are not alone. You are not the only pastor who has experienced the depth and intensity of pastoral burnout. 

Let me be clear, pastors are by no means the only people in churches who have found themselves in legal trouble over embezzlement. There are, unfortunately, many other cases in which board members, treasurers, and church bookkeepers have also stolen from their churches.

It’s a hard reality to face, but it doesn’t have to happen in churches, especially in your church! There are steps to take to ensure your ministry is protected and that you have the right people in place for the appropriate jobs. Here are three traits that make churches susceptible to embezzlement and how you can prevent it in your church. 

What makes churches susceptible to embezzlement? 

1. The trusting nature of churches

By its very nature, a church is a place of trust and safety. As the Church, we naturally want to see the best in people. Unfortunately, because of the world we live in, the trust we give is, at times, taken advantage of.

As pastors and church leaders, a difficult lesson is to learn to see people for who they are and discern the difference between “sheep” and “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” 

Take some time in prayer and ask the Lord who should be on your tithe and offering counting teams. Speak with your leadership, too, as you consider the “faithful” men and women God has put in your midst to help you steward the tithes and offerings coming into your ministry. By applying this discernment, it doesn’t mean you are being less trusting, but rather, you are adding wisdom to your trust.

2. Church fraud is usually caused by the last person you would expect

“No one could have imagined it!” 

This is a common phrase heard after a church or ministry discovers some kind of fraud in the counting of the tithes and offerings. In most instances of church fraud, it is committed by the person you would least expect. As I mentioned before, it is not uncommon for church board members, church treasurers, and even church  bookkeepers to take money from the church.

It may begin with small amounts being taken from the offering plate. Then, it eventually escalates to larger amounts being taken from the church’s bank account or misuse of the church’s credit card. 

The easiest way to prevent this type of fraud is to remove the “easy opportunities.” Remember what the scripture says, “do not give the enemy a foothold.” (Eph. 4:27). Discovering “footholds” in your tithe and offering counting process can best be accomplished by conducting an internal audit at least once a year. This will allow you to catch irregularities and prevent fraud or embezzlement from going unnoticed.

You can also seek to outsource your church’s bookkeeping. If your church is in need of someone to help manage your finances, I encourage you to call us at 877-494-4655 and ask one of our specialists about our bookkeeping service. Unlike a church treasurer or an in-house bookkeeper, our bookkeepers do not have access or control over your church’s money. Rather, our ministry-minded bookkeepers do exactly what is required of a bookkeeper: Review and categorize transactions, issue industry standard reports, and track loan and asset values. Plus, our bookkeepers keep compliance in mind for your ministry all while doing their bookkeeping tasks.

Hire a Bookkeeper to Manage Your Finances!

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3. Lack of proper policies and procedures

An often-forgotten key to ministry success is the implementation of adequate policies and procedures. When it comes to counting your tithes and offerings, having clear and concise policies and procedures can often be the catalyst to ensure you are protecting your church finances. 

By not having clear and concise policies and procedures for handling church finances and the counting of tithes and offerings, there is a lack of accountability. As a result, the opportunity for church fraud increases.

If your church or ministry is in need of financial policies, such as a tithe and offering policy or credit card policy, give us a call today at 877-494-4655, and we will be happy to send those to you for free.

8 ways to instantly improve handling tithes and offerings

To prevent embezzlement from happening in your church, consider implementing the following tithe and offering collection and counting procedures. 

  1. Select multiple money counters, regardless of the size of your church. I like three as the magic number. And, it’s best if these three people are not related to each other (if possible).
  2. Select a safe room for the counters to do their job. Even if your church meets in a portable location, find a secure area that has a locked door. 
  3. Make sure that all counting is done on the same day that the offerings are collected.
  4. Adopt a tithe and offering counting policy that all counters (paid staff and volunteers) follow.
  5. Utilize an offering counting sheet that details the tender and the amount. If you are in need of an offering counting sheet, give us a call at (844) 889-0993, and we will be happy to send you one.
  6. Don’t allow this job to be done by just one person during any given worship service.
  7. Don’t allow anyone to interrupt the selected counters while they are counting the offerings. 
  8. Don’t just simply put the money in a safe to use the cash as needed. Always deposit the money into the church’s bank account. This will help keep everyone accountable.

A trusted source 

Luke 16:10 says, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” At StartCHURCH, our team is here to support you and to be a resource that you can trust. We care deeply for your church and have a passion for seeing you fulfill the vision and mandate God has placed in your heart.

If you are interested in any of the resources mentioned above, or if you want to take your church or ministry’s finances to the next level with our bookkeeping service, I encourage you to call us today at 877-494-4655 and ask to speak with one of our specialists. Or, click the button below to schedule a call to have one of our specialists call you.

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Raul Rivera

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